I know quotes are often lame, but at the same time sometimes it is distilled wisdom of such profound insight that it begs to be shared. The art of Facebook is knowing the difference.
This falls in the latter category:
“For us humans, everything is permanent - until it changes, as we are immortal until we die”
― Malcolm Muggeridge
It casts a light on the human propensity to (over-value) our own views and opinions and in fact have a very tenuous, if not unrealistic, grasp on reality. Much of our failure to deal with reality is now increasingly being documented by Neuroscientists who are identifying our biases.
Here is a long list of biases that contaminate the human experience, and of course given a lifetime of study (and interest) in Consumer Behaviour, we keep a close eye on developments in this space. It is particularly relevant to our work in helping organisations adopt a more customer-centric culture, as we have to constantly work around people’s inability and unwillingness to change. Two powerful biases we come across often are:
Confirmation bias: The tendency to search for, interpret, focus on and remember information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.
Dunning–Kruger effect: When incompetent people fail to realise they are incompetent because they lack the skill to distinguish between competence and incompetence.
I served my national service in South Africa. All up spent 4 years of my life in uniform. By and large those years were wasted (another story) but I have always tried to seek out those secondary benefits, and one of them has stood me in good stead.
When you train to go into battle and you are being ‘delivered’ to the site in the back of a troop carrier, you have to dismount while the vehicle is moving.
The vehicle drives in a large circle and every ten meters or so. A soldier has to dismount and take cover while the vehicle continues. The speed is probably about 20km per hour, and as you can imagine there is a lot of noise and dust and yelling of instructions. When it is your turn, you have leave your seat (really just a wooden bench) proceed down the bed of the truck and approach the tail gate at a fresh clip … and jump.
Sounds simple. And it is. If you follow one piece of advice.
The problem with a lot of good advice is that it is counter-intuitive. (Because if it was obvious, it wouldn't have been required.)
And almost without fail, on the first round, every one of us landed on our butts/backs. Your rifle gets dirty, you are not in a position to assume your position, so you can imagine that it made the sergeant very unhappy.
The advice was that when you jumped, you had to throw your weight forward. Specifically, since you were carrying a 40KG back pack, you had to use that weight to create as much momentum as possible, and fling your weight forward so that feels you are going to do a face plant. The speed of the vehicle and momentum/inertia and gravity would ensure you landed on your feet.
Despite being told what to expect and what to do, we all learned the hard way.
Two lessons I learned from that experience:
- If the momentum is going one way and you want to go the other way, AND you want to land on your feet, throw yourself into with all your might. Despite your fears and the apparent stupidity.
- If someone gives you advice based on deep experience, especially if it is counter-intuitive, it pays to listen.
(And I wonder if companies would fare better if they had a platoon sergeant to straighten out the smart-arses?)
Complete the quiz below to test your familiarity with players in the retail market:
- Sportsgirl is just like…
- Bunnings is just like…
- Zara is just like…
(Don’t skip this, because you will need your answer at the end of the post.)
The answers are… whatever you want, I won’t be able to convince you otherwise, and this post is about why I can’t.
Human being are innate pattern seekers. Our brains are wired to explain all the things we experience as quickly as possible because that best ensures our survival.
Is that brown shape in the grass a snake or stick?
The fastest way to do this is to map it to something we already know. Make one connection between the new experience and an existing, and your brain can file it away. As soon as you can say something is ‘just like’ that new thing is not new or dangerous anymore.
In the process we create stereotypes.
Some good: long, thin with uneven angles, not moving = stick.
Some bad: People who wear turbans/hijabs are evil.
Stereotypes save us a lot of time and mental energy and getting things wrong occasionally is a small price to pay for all the other times we got it right. Psychologists term this tendency to for people to favour information that confirms their preconceptions a ‘confirmation bias’.
It works for us most of the time. Except when it doesn’t.
If that long, thin brown shape turns out to be a snake, the price is death and it is irrelevant that the previous thousand times you walked on that pat it was only a stick.
The effect of confirmation bias is to erase the new experience and to assimilate it into what we know, which creates a virtuous loop of self-fulfilling confirmations.
Eventually we only perceive that which confirms our preconceptions.
This in turn keeps drawing us to people, things and ideas which are already familiar with: we read the newspapers which share our views, the watch the movies we like, we mingle with people who are like us.
And even when it doesn’t quite fit, we ignore the bits that don’t and simply complete the picture we want to see. In the figure below you will see a square that does not exist, because you fill in the blanks to see what you want to see.
We do the same with ideas, experiences and interpretations of other people.
I am sure you have been on a holiday somewhere (Bali, France) and thought hat landscape looked ‘just like’ – Adelaide or wherever. And soon after you are thinking the bread tastes just like that deli back home and the coffee reminds you of that time you visited Melbourne… and you start wondering why you paid all that money.
The objective truth is that no two things/ experiences can be alike. When we say something is just like – we diminish the new experience and destroy what is unique for the sake of remaining in a comfort zone.
This is especially sad when we diminish people who are not like us to something that they are not, but suits our prejudice.
In the business world, we are prone to make this mistake too. Even if confirmation bias is potentially ‘fatal’ we continue to do it because that is just how we are wired.
Is there is a way to minimise the effects of confirmation bias in the workplace?
It takes a bit of work and re-training the brain, but there is. Whilst I can’t (and no one can) you can change how you process things, so consider the logic below:
When we match patterns, we match to things we know.
The easiest match is with the things we know best.
What do we know best?
Ourselves. Our environment. The familiar. Otherwise known as our comfort zone.
So the solution is simply to start training yourself to:
- Do things outside your comfort zone.
- Be conscious about seeking out differences rather than similarities.
- Consciously take a different route.
- Make an effort to catch yourself saying it is ‘just like’ and correct yourself.
Can you remember which retailer you said is ‘just like Sportsgirl’?
Now make an effort to now consider how those two are different. And there has to be at least one major (point of) difference, otherwise one of them won’t survive.
Then make that kind of thinking a habit.
That is how you discover new things, that is how you innovate and that is how you see opportunities; by focussing on differences and gaps, not on similarities.
I can speak from experience because I am a contrarian and I am acutely aware of the need for likability which precedes any relationship because I don’t always succeed in getting people to see past the contrariness. But what I miss out in warn and fuzzy relationships, I make up in edgy new experiences; and most of the time I consider that to be a fair trade.
Ganador: Solutions for Learning in the Retail Supply Chain
One of the most important skills we can have – is the ability to ask questions. This ability underpins our ability to discriminate.
Discrimination has been given a bad rap: we are told not to discriminate based on age, sex, race, sexual orientation and so on. But in the process, all discrimination is tainted.
If you can’t discriminate between poisonous and non-poisonous plants, or dangerous or safe animals, you won’t survive long. If you can’t discriminate between good and bad, new and old, valuable and non-valuable you will miss all opportunities and fall victim to perfectly foreseeable disasters. (You get the idea of the picture above?)
The ability to discriminate is important – crucial even – and yet we are expected to acquire this skill by osmosis.
From a business perspective we commonly rely on questioning to discriminate. I wrote previously about the million dollar question, but this post is more about the nature of questioning and the purpose of questioning.
Steve Jobs is famous for saying (effectively) that Apple does not do research because customers don’t know what they want:
It's not about pop culture, and it's not about fooling people, and it's not about convincing people that they want something they don't. We figure out what we want. And I think we're pretty good at having the right discipline to think through whether a lot of other people are going to want it, too. That's what we get paid to do. So you can't go out and ask people, you know, what the next big [thing.] There's a great quote by Henry Ford, right? He said, 'If I'd have asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me ‘A faster horse.’
Jobs knew that it is almost impossible to ask the customer the type of (right) question that will give you a valid answer when it comes to researching new products that don’t exist.
My doctoral thesis changed because a professor asked me a question I could not answer. I can’t remember what my first proposal was, but I can remember his response because I learned something powerful that day, when he asked me:
Dave Trott is a Creative Director of a London Agency. He writes an interesting blog – here is an example - and his book is titled Predatory Thinking. What predatory thinking boils down to in my mind is simply the ability to ask questions that other people don’t.
Some example of good and poor questions:
POOR: Is Facebook a good platform to advertise on?
GOOD: Why are people using Facebook?
POOR: Should I build a website or an app for that new service?
GOOD: How do customers want to engage with my business?
I won’t keep going, but you can see readily that poor questions are the ones that have binary/ closed answers. Good questions on the other hand reveal something essential about the topic.
These are legitimate answers:
· Facebook is a good platform to advertise on.
· We want faster horses.
· We want faster modems.
The follow up question is: SO WHAT?
What are you going to do with that answer? How is it useful?
Simply knowing there is a lot of people on Facebook does not mean anything. Unless you can answer the question that follows: so what?
People are innate pattern seekers. When we look for the secret of success we look for a path that someone else has followed. We hang on to the words of the gurus who promise a recipe.
People love to learn lesson by analogy. Lessons about leadership learned from sailing the ocean. Lessons in courage from climbing a mountain. Lessons in strategy from being a football coach. Lessons in innovation from how a squirrel or lessons in brand management from Lady Gaga.
Have you ever stopped to think: where did the pit bull or the coach or the mountaineer or Lady Gaga learn it? Who did they pattern their decisions and behaviours on?
The world IS full of patterns. Cycles everywhere. Pyramids abound. The best way to explain most things can be found in a matrix. Every mathematical formula is a pattern and even kindergarten kids have heard of algorithms.
But in a complex world filled with complex human beings operating in a dynamic, shifting landscape, we will only ever find partial patterns. It is a grave risk to extrapolate anything on a linear basis.
That Turkey being raised in the backyard will think it is living a great life for every day someone pops in and feeds it to its heart’s content. Daily, without fail, for weeks and months on end. Until, on Thanksgiving, their carer does not come with a bowl of food, but an axe. And it ALWAYS happens.
Patterns and secrets and recipes are only ever partial insights. No one know everything and nothing is ever known completely.
We don’t have to be paralysed into non-action, but instead we should always ensure we have a built in capacity to change and adapt. There is that one day a year where the Turkey would wish its wings are not merely ornamental and that they could fly. But then it is too late.
The idea of the ENSO circle or incomplete circle is that it is painted in one stroke. This icon is meant to resemble enlightenment, strength, elegance, the universe, and the void or the space that connects everything. The concept is very difficult to describe because it is not really meant to be explained, it is meant to be felt, the moment of creativity is shown by painting the circle with brush, you may only take one stroke to create the icon and cannot alter it after this one stroke. The single stroke emphasizes this creative moment of imperfect perfection.
I have been blogging 8 years. You'd think I know what is popular and what will get people clicking and talking. And you'd be right in a small way, because I know a little, and this is what I know:
My most popular post of all time is THIS one. The amount of original writing is limited. The insights are arbitrary and, dare I say it, relatively shallow and somewhat cliched. But it has a killer headline that seduces people to click.
My next best post (on LinkedIn) is THIS one. It has a quarter of the views, but 10 X the number of thumbs up! It is certainly a much better post than the previous one, but it is not particularly deep - and if you read it you will immediately grasp the obvious lesson/message it contains.
THIS post is much better than any of the above. It is actually useful and contains a powerful, foundational insight that can be translated (and used) into any business challenge. It has below average views, and 2 likes.
Add to the above the following observation:
Watch and observe the follow of 'updates' on social media platforms. Whether it is Twitter or LinkedIn or whatever, the most popular posts are:
- An image - with a (unoriginal) quote
- A recipe that promises a quick solution in X number of steps
- A wild promise to make someone better at (leadership, personal branding, productivity - fill in the blank)
- A shortcut to achieving some type of superficial success (be more popular, get more followers, etc)
From what I have learned about people's online behaviours, I can say this quite unequivocally:
- People don't really want to learn, they want a shortcut.
- People don't want to think, they want to be reminded of what they know.
- People don't' want to work at figuring something out, wrestle with an application - but want it given to them.
- People don't actually grow their own purpose through self-reflection, they want to follow the crowd.
- People invariably mistake the obvious for the truth.
- Almost everybody reading this will think the above don't apply to them.
OUR GRAND ERROR OF JUDGMENT:
Words of Wisdom are seen as wise if everyone else previously agreed that those words are wise. Business advice is taken from people who are perceived to have been successful.
The TRUTH is that words of advice may be true or untrue irrespective of the past record of the person speaking them. The truth is the truth, no matter where it comes from. Someone who has spoken a past truth does not necessarily have a monopoly on the truth; it can come from anywhere - even from a child.
Taking advice from someone who has succeeded in business (or anything) is actually rationally not the smartest thing that you can do. They may have tried once or twice and succeeded wildly and admirably. Good for them. But that means they have not gone to school on that particular challenge.
Here is the thing though:
- Because they have succeeded at one thing does not mean they will succeed again.
- Because they have succeeded in their way, does not mean it is relevant to your situation.
- Because they have succeed, does not mean they understand why they succeeded because they may actually not have the self-awareness or the understanding of the true factors of success.
- Because they succeeded, they don't know what causes failures.
If ANYONE had the real secret or recipe, we would have no more failures. Polio may have been eradicated, but failure hasn't; because there is no antidote to failure.
This post is an extract from our previous newsletter. Explore the archives and see if you would like to get it in future direct to your inbox.
THE THREE JOBS WE DO
Your jobs does not comprise of one job, but three distinct ones. Your success or failure at your job is determined by the extent to which you understand the difference and the skill you have to do ONE of those jobs better than anyone else.
Job #1: THE OSTENSIBLE JOB
(This is the job we get paid to do)
This is what they tell you in the interview. This is the job you get HIRED for.
We arrive at work. We answer emails. Attend meetings. Sell stuff. Write reports. We draw, we make, we carry, and we inspect – all those TASKS that we will ostensibly be evaluated on when it comes to bonus time.
But if you listen carefully during your performance appraisal, you will find that rarely will your skills to do those tasks be questioned. (Occasionally, particularly in jobs that have clear, unequivocal outcomes – like sales jobs, or programming jobs – or relatively menial tasks - like manual labour - will there be some discussion around that, but that is the exception rather than the rule.)
Your skills at these jobs are rarely questioned or questionable as you most likely have the basic skills set in order to be offered the job.
Job #2: THE SHADOW JOB
(This is the job we don’t get paid to do)
These tasks are not in your job-description, but everyone does some of these at some point. The Job # 2 is the shadow job.
All those tasks that you have to do as part of Job #1, have a shadow job:
Helping a colleague solve a problem. Organising the Christmas party. Cleaning up in the kitchen. Baby-sitting a new employee.
It is about arriving early and staying late. Going the extra mile.
We all willing contribute on those extra jobs in category #2. We think it will make us stand out. We hope others will notice that we are team players. Organisations rely on this large pool of unpaid labour – corporate volunteerism that is driven people’s insecurities and needs to fit in. I would hazard a guess that if people didn’t participate in the Job #2s, few organisations would turn a profit. (Incidentally, labour unions thrive on isolating those extra bits and attempt to extract payment for it which is why corporations don’t like unions.
Job #3: THE UNDERGROUND JOB
(This is the job that gets you paid.)
This is the most important job of all. If you don’t succeed at this job, you won’t be employed for very long and your success will be limited. This is the job you get FIRED for.
There is the good stuff:
Being nice. Being liked. Smiling when you don’t want to. Dressing appropriately. Keeping up appearance. Swallowing a sarcastic comment.
And there is the bad stuff:
Undermining someone. A gentle backstab here, an assassin’s smile there. Adding a bit to the gossip and tapping into the grapevine.
We all SAY we love doing job #1. We ALL say that Job #1 is what really matters. We sign up for Job #1 and we think that is the job that really matters. But it doesn’t.
Career advisors try to match your skills and interests with the tasks of Job #1. This is a futile exercise, because ultimately, every job becomes a sales job as you must learn to sell yourself.
Go on leave for a month, and somehow things still get done. It just shifts around as Job #2 for others to take care of. NO matter how indispensable we think we are, the jobs always get done.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
You design your resume to show of your skills and experience in Job #1 – The Ostensible Job.
You interview to show off your ability and willingness to do Job #2 – The Shadow Job.
You keep your job by delivering sufficiently on Jobs #1 and #2.
You succeed or fail by your ability to do the Underground Jobs - that is Job # 3, and the hardest of all.
There you go, the secret is out.
Here is a summary of eight insight that are - AT FIRST - surprising, but once you start thinking about it, it becomes obvious why it is so.
- Optimistic people are much less likely to die of heart attacks than pessimists, controlling for all known physical risk factors (Giltay et al., 2004).
- Women who display genuine (Duchenne) smiles to the photographer at age eighteen go on to have fewer divorces and more marital satisfaction than those who display fake smiles (Keltner et al., 1999).
- Positive emotion reduces at least some racial biases. For example, although people generally are better at recognising faces of their own race than faces of other races, putting people in a joyful mood reduces this discrepancy by improving memory for faces of people from other races (Johnson & Fredrickson, 2005).
- Externalities (e.g., weather, money, health, marriage, religion) added together account for no more than 15% of the variance in life satisfaction (Diener et al.,1999)
- Economically flourishing corporate teams have a ratio of at least 2.9:1 of positive statements to negative statements in business meetings, whereas stagnating teamshave a much lower ratio; flourishing marriages, however, require a ratio of at least 5:1 (Gottman & Levenson, 1999; Fredrickson & Losada, 2005).
- Self-discipline is twice as good a predictor of high school grades as IQ (Duckworth & Seligman, 2005).
- Happy teenagers go on to earn very substantially more income 15 years later than less happy teenagers, equating for income, grades and other obvious factors (Diener et al., 2002).
- How people celebrate good events that happen to their spouse is a better predictor of future love and commitment than how they respond to bad events (Gable et al.,2004).
The nature of the internet is such that we are exposed thousands of potential life-changing insights on any given day. The eight listed here all have that potential, but chances are that all that they get is a cursory glance.
More's a pity...
You can’t have what you want because what you want can’t be had.
And the reason why you don’t understand what can’t be had (and what can) is because you don’t understand systems thinking.
Let’s consider this on a personal level first, and then apply to business.
- You can’t ‘faith’ but you can ‘believe’.
- You can’t ‘happiness’ but you can ‘appreciate the moment’
- You can’t ‘wisdom’ but you can ‘choose wisely’
- You can’t ‘winner’ but you can ‘try hard’
But let’s start at the beginning.
In the world of systems thinking, it is a matter of first principles to identify Inputs à Processes à Outputs as a matter of course in every facet of life. A common mistake non-systems thinkers make is not confuse the outcome with the process and spend an inordinate amount of time trying to change an outcome instead of focussing on the inputs/processes that will deliver the outcome.
If you bake a cake that tastes like a turd, no amount of icing sugar will change it. Fix the ingredients or the process to produce a cake the way it should taste. Right?
We constantly fail to identify something as an outcome and spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to fix it.
If you want (e.g.) HAPPINESS, realise that it is something that in of itself it cannot be ‘had’ directly. You have to do something else in order to achieve happiness. (Learning to appreciate the moment is one avenue to happiness. It is one of the processes that will lead to happiness.)
Systems Thinking explains how the world works and consequently that it is futile to focus on the outcomes, but rather to focus on the back-end inputs and processes that will produce those outcomes.
In business we are conditioned to ‘watch the scoreboard’. Of course it is important to have metrics, but it is about picking the right metrics too. The purpose of metrics is to guide us towards the decisions we must take and the things we must do.
Customer Satisfaction, Profit and Sales are examples of useless metrics. (Okay, maybe less useful.)
These are examples of OUTPUTS. They are the equivalent of the cake that tastes of turd. Nothing you can do about these variables.
It is beyond the scope of a simple blog post to change your philosophical perspective on business, but if you do embrace systems thinking, you will appreciate that measures of productivity are more effective measurements because it measures OUTPUTS relative INPUTS. E.g. Sales per Employee is more useful than simply measuring sales. Likewise, the Average Sale is more useful than sales for the same reason.
You can’t HAVE more SALES but you can have staff SELLING more and if you measure that, which is what will cause more sales to happen.
By focussing on the inputs (staff/skills) and the processes (selling/.service) you produce those outcomes that you really want.
Keep your eye on the ball, not on the scoreboard.
This post is inspired by a podcast I listened to where the person had a stroke that affected his brain and the process he went through the re-train his brain. During that process he learned to meditate with a female Buddhist monk, who passed this insight on to him
Our stroke victim wanted to grow in his compassion for other people and he said he thought he had a lot of compassion. The Monk gave him some advice: She said he had empathy, but not compassion. He indicated that he thought it was very similar.
And this is the insight that followed:
No, she said: ‘Compassion is Empathy with a View.’
By that she meant that empathy had to be accompanied by ‘perspective’ or a view of the world and how it works.
The perspective or view of the world IS THE SILVER BULLET that puts the things you desire in context and makes you understand how to ‘view’ that outcome and to ‘appreciate’ it for what it is.
Having a clear view/ sense of purpose or a life plan helps explain what happens and helps direct your choices towards something in a cohesive manner.
On a personal lever your ‘view’ matters: The Christian sees God’s plan, the Hedonist sees pursuit of pleasure; and both of those views will inform how you experience everything. In the one instance pain must be endured and in another it must be avoided.
The Monk understood that empathy was something the individual experienced (internally) but that compassion was something that someone else experienced (externally). Empathy is a warm and fuzzy feeling, but compassion is something that reaches out and touches people.
If you want to be able to make sense of the world or have the ability to be resilient in the face of adversity or to be focussed on a specific outcome, the silver bullet is finding your sense of purpose.
Now for the part that most people miss.
Everybody HAS a view of life. And it DOES shape how you experience life. Only, most people don’t realise what it is nor how it works. Their view of life was formed by accident instead of by disciplined reflection.
Now for the sad part of all of this.
The DEFAULT view of life for most people is their own personal survival. And under the term ‘survival’ I include psychological survival, social survival and the like. We default to do that what is in our own best interests. Or more specifically, we default to what we THINK is the best for us.
The world is a much better place for all those people who purposefully choose to serve their Country, devote time to their Community or serve God – for instance – than for all the people who simply pursue their own personal happiness.
Not only is the world a better place, those people who choose an external focus for their lives are much better equipped to deal with the trials and tribulations of life, and consequently are happier.
There are many stories of people who won Lotto who, within a few years, end up exactly where they were before. (You of course believe you will be different.) The best view of these things was summed up in a Forbes article:
Achieving major life goals, including winning the lottery, or the more basic goal of getting married, doesn’t wind up making us as happy as we expect. (A) big positive event like a lottery win can impact happiness, but its effects diminish over time Why? Because while a lottery win can make a difference, it won’t affect the other conditions of your life, like who your siblings or parents are or your basic disposition.
There are many stories of people who suffered serious setbacks – for example by becoming disable – yet went on to live full and meaningful lives. Nick Vujicic is possibly the best example of what I am trying to say here.
On a corporate/ business lever your ‘view’ matters: A company with a clear sense of purpose – with a strong ‘view’ in the Buddhist’s terms - is one that can direct itself purposefully.
Let’s say you are struggling to be a successful entrepreneur. Your ‘view’ will determine what you do and how you cope and what eventually happens.
If you see business as a game, you will adopt different tactics, maybe hire a coach or even try and bend the rules. Or of course you may simply practice harder.
The MISSION you have for your business is the director/founder’s attempt to articulate the VIEW of the business. It is the answer to the question: “What is this (business) all about?’
To have a clear sense of mission (a ‘view’) makes the present problems and opportunities so much clearer. In fact, unless you have the lens afforded by a clear and powerful vision, you won’t SEE the opportunities when they present themselves. And you will see insurmountable obstacles instead of challenges.
I have written elsewhere about systems thinking in the post ‘Why you can’t have what you want’. In that post I explain how the pursuit of outcomes is misguided, and why we should measure and focus on the Inputs and the Processes.
Your takeaway is to contemplate the inputs and the processes that will produce the outcomes you want – and to focus on that.
This myth was debunked very nicely by Dr Karl; and the story goes something like this:
According to John McMasters, who back in the 'good old days' was principal engineer on the aerodynamics staff at Boeing Commercial Aeroplanes, it seems the aerodynamicist of the myth was probably an unnamed Swiss professor famous in the 1930s and 1940s for his work in supersonic gas dynamics. The aerodynamicist was having dinner with a biologist. In the idle chit-chat, the biologist noted that bees and wasps had very flimsy wings — but heavy bodies. So how could they possibly fly?
With absolutely no hard data, but a willingness to help that overcame good dinner party etiquette, the aerodynamicist made two assumptions in his back-of-envelope calculations.
The first assumption was that the bees' wings were flat plates that were mostly smooth (like aeroplane wings). The second assumption was that as air flows over an insect's wings, it would separate easily from the wing. Both of these assumptions turned out to be totally incorrect — and the origin of our myth.
The aerodynamicist's initial rough calculations 'proved' that insects could not fly. But that was not the end of the story.
Of course, being a good scientist, his sense of curiosity got him interested in this problem. Clearly, insects can fly. He then examined insect wings under a microscope and found that they had a ragged and rough surface. In other words, one of his assumptions was way off.
But by then, overzealous journalists had spread the myth he had inadvertently created. The story had flown free, even though the bumblebee supposedly couldn't.
There is a lesson in that for all of us. In fact several lessons if we really want to be honest. For instance that much of what we ‘know’ isn’t really knowledge at all. But I want to focus on one particular epistemic principle that we will be well served remembering:
Things that we know today are always overturned in the face of advancing knowledge. As time goes by, we learn things that allow us to create better explanations. But no matter how good the explanation today, there is always a better one tomorrow.
This force of advancing knowledge has a profound implication for our everyday lives and specifically for business strategy:
Everything you believe and take as fact today is changed tomorrow in the light of new evidence.
Just like we once thought the earth was flat and that the start revolved around us, we now know better. Just as Newton’s explanations were eclipsed by Einstein’s theories, everything we know today is at best found to be only partially correct tomorrow.
So how can the Truth change? Well the answer is that it hasn't. The Universe is still the same as it ever was. When a theory is said to be ``true'' it means that it agrees with all known experimental evidence.
SIDEBAR: This is a point where both THEISTS and ATHEISTS argue their own position. Theists claim that ABSOLUTE truth exists. This is a philosophical assertion based on the notion that ‘it is just so’ – it is something we simply intuit universally. The ATHEIST must argue necessarily that everything is relative. That is, that ‘truth’ is simply that which agrees with all current experimental evidence.
Every person (consciously or not) must take a position in one of these two exclusive camps; one where TRUTH is an absolute and one where it is relative. I find it absolutely hilarious how some people can’t argue against the notion of an absolute truth, but equally firmly adopts an atheistic worldview.
But science has taught us nothing if not that there is always a better explanation around the corner. Some take great comfort from science’s commitment to constantly disprove itself as if this of itself guarantees that we are getting closer to some grand unifying theory of everything. Of course it could just as easily be just a gigantic rabbit hole down which we chase that absolute truth denied by scientists in the first place.
Whatever way you choose, when it comes to human affairs like business strategy, marketing and management and the like, clearly there are no absolutes.
What is right today is wrong tomorrow.
Whoever is best at the strategic arbitrage opportunities and can identify the shifts and changes best and soonest stands to profit most.
But more immediately and possibly more relevant to most of us mere mortals, this shifting foundation of knowledge means that we should recognise this universal truth. The more convicted you are of your opinion, the more compelling the consultant’s exposition the more certain you can be that it, whilst it may seem right now, it is bound to be proven wrong tomorrow.
If you research and study the evolution of the ‘marketing concept’ and/or the ‘evolution of retailing’ then you will notice that ‘the right way’ is always the current way of doing it – the prevailing paradigm so to speak.
Current best practice is always superseded by something better. So a healthy dose of cynicism is a prerequisite in our modern world; for the lack of it will result in us chasing down the ephemeral promises of every fad that comes along.
The bumble bee that is not supposed to fly and the frog that gets slowly cooked in the pot of boiling water are great motivating stories – but nothing more than that. The absolute truth is a bit more elusive and it takes a lifetime to pursue and, who knows, may only be discovered once we pass away.
In the meantime, question everything.
That is a pretty rich title because I have not done it myself. In my defense, I have looked at the price to be paid and I have decided that I don’t want to pay that price. Or at worst I have convinced myself that I don’t want to pay the price when I am really afraid to try; but I am sticking to the former.
Then again, every great coach wasn’t necessarily the greatest player – and all that is required is that you must be a great student of the ‘game’ and it helps if you’ve coached and consulted to a fair few who have done so.
This post is triggered because I recently read an article, proffering the following platitudes that were disguised as advice:
- Build your brand with Social Media
- Focus on your goals
- Sales and Marketing has to happen daily
- Build your company foundation on process
- Employ performing staff
(I don’t want to link to it and give any more oxygen, because I really don’t think those platitudes are helpful at all.)
I equate that type of advice to telling fat people to lose weight or telling introverts to get out there and have more fun. Of course there is an element of truth to all those statements – as attested by over hundred affirming comments.
But if you want to know the REAL truth, here goes:
Irrespective of anything you DO about your business to take it to the next level, several other things must go right over which you have no control:
- It must be a kind of business that is capable of generating $5m. That is there must be a market for whatever it is you are selling.
- Hope that the government does not move the goal posts
- Pray that a competitor with deeper pockets does not decide to muscle in
- And so forth.
That is: you need some luck. Your timing and your environment must work for you and not against you. Luck is often the loser’s excuse, but that does not mean it doesn’t play a role in the eventual outcome of a business venture.
Assuming you have some luck, you will ALSO be making a million decisions a month to take your business in the right direction. You must be very skilled or very lucky that none of the decisions you take serve to derail your business. You could easily choose one wrong supplier, choose a wrong web-host, adopt a flawed pricing strategy or implement a promotion that drains cash and delivers no return. This does not mean you are not an entrepreneur or that someone else was smarter or better than you. They simply lucked out by not making the same mistakes. These mistakes are always easily identifiable in hindsight, rarely with foresight.
Now, if you are a bit lucky and you are reasonably competent decision maker then you are in with a chance. If you are already running a $2m business, chances are that you are doing something right; so the things you must do next are the key steps that will take you to the next level:
ONE: Formulate a clear vision of the NEW business model. Let me be very clear: your $5m business is NOT more of the same, it is different in almost every imaginable way. Understanding your new business model is a prerequisite because the decisions that follow are about implementing that vision with processes and resources that align everything towards that vision. (Note: a business model is not a business plan.)
TWO: Actively articulate the new mindset that is required to take you ahead. Almost everything that you did up until this point must be thrown out the window and you need to re-think how you do everything. What needs to be done is quite specific and quite radical. You must understand yourself, your default position and actively identify what needs to change and keep that in mind as you proceed. (I wrote about ‘defaults’ here.) You must really build a new mental model in your mind. (Everything that follows presumes this has happened.)
THREE: Assuming you have the right mindset, you must:
restructure your business so that you are made redundant
reassign responsibilities and accountabilities amongst different staff members
redesign the processes that govern all business activities in such a way that it can scale to the new level – this is what we mean by saying that you work ‘on’ the business and not ‘in’ the business
FOUR: Do the basics well. This should be easy part, but sadly it isn’t always. Sales. Marketing. Branding. Visual Merchandising. Service. All these are basic processes in the retail environment and the nature of ‘success’ is clearly understood.
FIVE: Implement like hell. Commitment. Drive. Persistence. All these words come to mind for what comes next. It is not easy. Be prepared to fail. But get up, fix it and move on. There is a price to pay: you will be pushed out of your comfort zone and be pushed out of your bed earlier and more often than you would like, but trust me, if success comes easily then it is just luck. Real success is a harsh taskmaster that demands a steep price of its seekers.
These five steps are arbitrary because you could make it more or you could make it less. The aim is that they are not platitudes, but rather spells out concrete steps that can be taken. You may need help to get there, but with a solid game plan and a bit of coaching its amazing what can be accomplished.
Just ask the Waratahs.
Ganador – architects of high performance business
Get a fortnightly dose of #thinkdifferent advice by subscribing here
The truth is you can't be anything you want to be and you can't do anything you want to do.
History proves that sometimes circumstance or destiny will force us down a path that is not of our choosing .
And common sense will tell you that if you are fixated on one goal, you are likely to miss every opportunity that comes your way
Preparing for your future and achieving the things you would like to achieve must be balanced with a certain joie d'vie and living in the moment. That, dear friend is the ART of living: finding balance between the things you have to do and the things you want to do and the balance between common sense and adventure.
This is ultimately the balance between being alive and living.
This inspiring talk by Andrew Solomon is well worth 15 minutes of your time as you contemplate why you are here.
Long-time readers will know that I have never been a great fan of that whole 'set a goal - believe and achieve' glibness that permeates self-help books and new age literature. Daniel Pink wrote a book called The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need to help young (and old) people understand the world of work. The 160-page graphic novel about a hapless office clerk, a tart-tongued sprite, and some magic chopsticks takes a whopping half-hour to read. The book’s 6 key career lessons:
1. There is no plan.
Make decisions for fundamental, not instrumental, reasons.
2. Think strengths, not weaknesses.
Do the things you do well — that give you energy rather than drain it.
3. It’s not about you.
The most successful people improve their own lives by improving others’ lives.
4. Persistence trumps talent.
There are massive returns to doggedness.
5. Make excellent mistakes.
Commit errors from which the benefits of what you’ve learned exceed the costs of what you’ve screwed up.
6. Leave an imprint.
Recognize that your life isn’t infinite and that you should use your limited time here to do something that matters.
The topic of this post may at first seem strange, but there is much to take from the underlying approach to life.
Read those six steps again and apply that to your business – and think about how your business would be different if you followed this approach to life and business instead.
PS: This post is adapted from a previous post in my fortnightly newsletter which you can get here. (And a free eBook on Visual Merchandising emailed to all who subscribe.)
A recent article espoused the rules Tim Ferris came up with as the perfect ‘STOP DOING’ list to improve productivity.
I can say without much equivocation that I am an extremely productive person. It is a big claim and hard to prove to the casual reader. But here is a snapshot of my email inbox.
There are exactly 5 emails – and all of them require me to take an action that I must do. When I go to bed – there may be one or two – usually none. Even my junk email folder gets emptied several times a day.
I break EVERY ‘rule’ the productivity experts come up with:
Do Not Answer Calls from Unrecognized Numbers
I don’t think I am that special. I don’t want to limit all future human interaction with only people that I know. If someone went to the trouble of finding me or my (unlisted) number I am happy to talk. It may be short but only after I have listened.
Do Not Email First Thing in the Morning or Last Thing at Night AND Do Not Check Email Constantly
I check email all the time – including first thing and last thing. But I deal with 95% of them only once: delete, file, action or refer. It takes a few seconds per email on average and it doesn’t matter WHEN you spend the time – logically – just that you do it efficiently.
(I have a short attention span, and every few minutes I sue the break in my attention to quickly nail a few emails, then return to what I was doing. It may not work fro everyone, but in my case I am constantly engaged with one thing at a time, and I optimise my productivity that way.)
Do Not Agree to Meetings or Calls With No Clear Agenda or End Time
This may only apply if I am the most senior person in the meeting. If my boss asks me to attend a meeting I would go and suggest you do to.
Do Not Let People Ramble
What a rude suggestion. We are not all the same. It may take a few minutes extra to get to the point but if you rush someone or cut them off, the point they want to make will probably be not the same and besides, the most important thing in a relationship is the initial ‘likability’ which is dialled to zero if you cut someone off.
Do Not Overcommunicate With Low-Profit, High-Maintenance Customers
If they are a customer, they are a customer and are treated as such. If you don’t want them as a customer, then ‘fire’ them and then you don’t have to communicate at all.
These are just the top 5. In the interest of my own productivity I will stop there because the point is made:
Be careful who you accept advice from because just because it works for one (or even a thousand) does not mean it is right for you.
Daddy is Santa
You started out believing the lie about Santa. Eventually, logic and the slow realisation that it would be embarrassing to believe something none of your friends did won out and you pushed back enough to force an admission from our parents.
So you face up to the brutal truth.
This is a story that plays out around December of every year in an endless cycle.
Some people say – one could even say there is universal consensus – that it is healthy for the child to indulge in the fantasy. Let the kids be kids; even if we have to lie to them. We convince ourselves that it is innocent or that it is a tradition. These Christmas experiences become part of the stories that enrich our lives.
The problem though, is that we carry this indulgence into our adulthood. We continue to live in a fantasy world filled by beliefs about our abilities and beliefs about how the world works that are completely unrealistic. We think we fit into the world by being near the centre, where most if not all revolves around us.
This misguided belief is not caused by the initial belief in Santa, but it is symptomatic about what seems to be an innate human trait. It starts by us believing someone magical will fulfil our wishes and then morphs into believing we deserve good things. And worse, that we are actually pretty good.
There are exceptions to the rule, but a good start is for us not to think we are the exception. Chances are:
- · You are not that attractive. (You may still be loved by someone and someone may countenance your visage – but being loved is not the same as being pretty.)
- · You are not that smart. (Hello bell-curve.)
- · You can’t sing. (Australian Idol thrives on that.)
- · Your customer service sucks. (Research shows and customers will tell you so.)
- · Your start-up idea sucks. (That is why you can’t get funding.)
- · Your friends are just not that in to you. (That is why they never call.)
- · Your blog posts aren’t that interesting. (Google’s got nothing against you; they don’t care enough.)
You don’t deserve to be healthy or happy. The universe owes you nothing. There is no Santa.
Is that reason to despair?
Of course not:
You are not built like Usain Bolt and you will never run as fast. But you can train harder, run faster and run further.
You don’t cook like Nigella, but you can enjoy the meal.
You don’t sing like a Nightingale but nothing needs to stop you.
Being pretty, smart or perfect in anyway is not a prerequisite to living life.
Accepting your limitations and giving life a fair old crack despite those limitations is the true hallmark of a life well lived.
Being deluded about how great you are, either means you have been watching too many movies or read too many self-help books. Or you have never lost faith that a Santa still exists and his sole purpose is to delight and surprise you.
Well, he doesn’t. Santa is your dad. Get over it. Christmas is just as much fun giving gifts and knowing who gave you a gift – even if you have to go the shop to buy it.
Messi was born in Rosario, Santa Fe Province, to factory steel worker, and a part-time cleaner. At the age of five, Messi started playing football for Grandoli, a local club coached by his father Jorge. In 1995, Messi switched to Newell's Old Boys in his home city Rosario. He became part of a local youth powerhouse that lost only one match in the next four years and became locally known as "The Machine of '87", from the year of their birth.
At the age of 11, Messi was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency. Local powerhouse River Plate showed interest in Messi's progress, but were not willing to pay for treatment for his condition, which cost $900 a month. Carles Rexach, the sporting director of FC Barcelona, was made aware of his talent as Messi had relatives in Lleida in western Catalonia, and Messi and his father were able to arrange a trial with the team.
Rexach, with no other paper at hand, offered Messi a contract written on a paper napkin. Barcelona offered to pay Messi's medical bills on the condition that he moved to Spain. Messi and his father duly moved to Barcelona, where Messi enrolled in the club's youth academy.
And the rest as they say is history.
By the age of 21, Messi had received Ballon d'Or and FIFA World Player of the Year nominations. The following year, he won his first Ballon d'Or and FIFA World Player of the Year awards. He followed this up by winning the inaugural FIFA Ballon d'Or in 2010, and 2011 and 2012. He also won the 2010–11 UEFA Best Player in Europe Award. At the age of 24, Messi became Barcelona's all-time top scorer in all official club competitions. At age 25, Messi became the youngest player to score 200 goals in La Liga's matches.
Commonly ranked as the best player in the world and rated by some in the sport as the greatest of all time, Messi is the first football player in history to win four FIFA/Ballons d'Or, all of which he won consecutively, as well as the first to win three European Golden Shoe awards. With Barcelona, Messi has won six La Ligas, two Copas del Rey, five Supercopas de España, three UEFA Champions Leagues, two UEFA Super Cups and two Club World Cups.
Messi is the first and only player to top-score in four consecutive Champions League campaigns, and also holds the record for the most hat-tricks scored in the competition. In March 2012, Messi made Champions League history by becoming the first player to score five goals in one match.
1. There is no substitute for talent.
2. You need a bit of luck and connections.
3. But it doesn’t matter if you come from a modest background.
4. If you are good you will get the opportunity to succeed, but you must still capitalise on the opportunity.
5. In the face of the challenge (childhood illness) persistence pays off.
6. Expert opinions are not always worth that much – there is a club out there who regrets passing over on the opportunity to sign the little maestro.
7. It is not about the physical ability, but the mental ability.
8. His first instinct is to seek the goal: it is uncanny how aware he is of where the goal is even if he has his back to the goal.
9. He sees gaps and takes gaps no one sees or takes.
10. The highest accolade is not money, but the recognition of your peers. (Not in the shallow, politicised style of the Oscars, but rather the spontaneous acknowledgement of your peers.) In the face of that adulation, his instinctive reaction is one of humility. Watch this and you will see what I mean.
MESSI'S 50 GREATEST GOALS
Do you admit when you don’t know?
Some people find it easier than others to admit their ignorance whilst others would rather die than admit so and simply make it up.
I suspect that most people will, if asked, say that they are happy to admit that they don’t know something. In my experience, however, the reality suggests that most people hate pleading ignorance.
It is easy to admit we don’t know something, when that ‘something’ is outrageously difficult, obscure and far removed from our day to day existence. Most people will happily admit that they know nothing about Quantum Physics or the specific atmospheric conditions on the moon.
But let’s imagine that you are a bit of sports-nut and you are sitting on the coach watching your favourite sport, say AFL, with your girlfriend. The umpire makes a certain call. You don’t know for sure whether the call is for a high tackle, a push in the back or an illegal bump. She does not know much about the sport.
How do you answer her? Honestly?
In this scenario, you are now in a position where you must plead ignorance on a topic that will consequently involve a loss of ego. After all, you are supposed to know, right?
The same scenario plays out in workplace everyday. People get asked questions about something that they can reasonably be expected to know about. If there is the slightest chance that the person asking won’t know the difference, most people will straight up lie.
Some may argue that they are only waffling.
But ‘the waffle’ is the twin brother of the white lie. A lie is a lie – irrespective of the nobility of the purpose to mask the truth.
Not admitting ignorance is just another lie – even if it dressed up as waffle that the receiver may not recognise as such.
- What kind of manager/ leader are you when confronted with a question where ignorance will cause a loss of ego?
- Is your ego more important than the truth?
- Is your ego more important than the trust of the other party?
People may rationalise their decision to pretend they know because they think that it displays/ asserts confidence and that people want a leader who is ‘assured’ in their knowledge.
They fail to understand something very important.
It is not the admission of ignorance that harms your ego, it is the next sentence or the next action that matters.
It is perfectly OK to say, “I don’t know’ but I will find out.” Or to say: “I should probably know that, but I don’t. But I know who does…”.
Like ANY kind of defeat, it is not the defeat itself that shapes who you are. It is what you do next.
This post was cross-posted at LInkedIn.
… is because you try to win.
A few salient points to consider from the talk"
- When an argument starts, persuasion stops.
- As soon as people are confronted with information being in conflict with their worldview, the parts of the brain that handle reason and logic went dormant.
- When trying to win over someone whose natural allegiances are not with you, getting into an argument is a sure way to fail.
- “Winning” comes from, is a metaphoric struggle for life and death now and nobody wants to die.
- Losing an argument means you learn something.
Note: this 'post' was use as an intro to my weekly newsletter. I thought it was worth posting here since not all newsletter readers are blog readers and vice versa. If you DON'T get the weekly #thinkdifferent update, you should think about it.
Hugh McLeod of Gavingvoid captures it well.
David McRaney writes on the same thing in his book (You are now less dumb - 2012).
Once something is added to your collection of beliefs, you protect it from harm. You do this instinctively and unconsciously when confronted with attitude-inconsistent information.
Just as confirmation bias shields you when you actively seek information, the backfire effect defends you when the information seeks you, when it blindsides you.
Coming or going, you stick to your beliefs instead of questioning them. When someone tries to correct you, tries to dilute your misconceptions, it backfires and strengthens those misconceptions instead.
Over time, the backfire effect makes you less skeptical of those things that allow you to continue seeing your beliefs and attitudes as true and proper.
I think these two insights capture the essence of why it is so difficult to get people to change their minds. Because accepting YOUR idea often means abandoning one of their own.